At just a little after 10 in the morning it was already hot. I could feel the sweat begin to build up as I fought my way through the crowds from the Green Line subway station at Government Center down the steps to the Faneuil Hall area. Even in this weather I could feel the heat of Amelie glow through the crowds. I followed her feel instead of my outside senses to find her.
A ring of people was beginning to build between Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall as I came around. I could see the performer start his show, balancing a chair on his forehead. Amelie waved and I walked around to her.
She gave me a tight hug and kiss on the cheek. “Hey, glad you could make it,” she said. She kept her hold on me.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.
Winnie walked up, a slight frown of disapproval at Amelie. As Amelie and I separated Winnie’s smile grew. She ignored my outstretched hand and hugged me. Winnie had a warmth that was similar to her sister’s, but it was less intense, yet somehow deeper.
“Hi Cousin Trevor,” she said with a laugh. “I never got a chance to thank you for last week.”
“Oh, no need to thank me,” I said. “I had to do it. There is no way I could leave a child caught in his web.”
She smiled. She seemed more down to earth than her sister. And there was something else, the same steely place I had felt as I talked to her mother on the phone.
“Oh, do you know Lisa?” Winnie asked.
I had seen Lisa before at the mausoleum, but had never talked to her. She looked a lot like Winnie, yet was “white”. She had a very light complexion, light brown hair and greenish blue eyes. Yet standing next to Amelie and Winnie her high cheekbones and fuller lips made it very apparent her relationship to the two women who considered themselves “African American”.
“Hi Lisa,” I said, giving her a hand to shake. “I’ve seen you almost my whole life but I don’t think I ever knew your name. I’m…”
“I know who you are,” she said with a laugh as took my hand in both of hers. “I’ve been hearing all about what you did in the cemetery and later at Winnie’s house this whole week. And I insist on saying ‘thank you’ if you think it deserved or not.”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“Come on, though, we’re family,” she said and hugged me.
She had a warmth in ways similar to Winnie, but there was a difference. It was like a fire on the tundra, with a mile of ice beneath the flames. The cold was very familiar, a cold I had known and felt before. It was the feel of the Halley Branch.
Her smile was real and warm enough as she let go. There was only kindness in this woman.
The women started talking about where they wanted to go first when I felt something hit me. I turned and saw an intense pair of Halley blue eyes staring at me. Before I could register them I was hit by a flame, but it was a friendly hit, like a puppy jumping on me.
“Uncle Trevor!” Milly said as she threw herself into my arms. “I’m so glad you could come!”
I was amazed at how much she felt like Amelie. They were almost identical, yet there was something very childlike and innocent in her feel. I also felt comfortable, like this was a part of me.
“As soon as I felt you in my mind the other day I knew it was you coming to rescue me,” she said. “And I knew you’d come. We’re connected, you know.” There was no question or irony in her voice. And I knew she spoke the truth.
“Yes we are,” I said. The connection was both one of great horrors and knowing the dark things that go bump in the night and one of innocence, of childhood and summer days. Although I could sense that she was on the verge of womanhood and was very mature for her age in many ways, a need to protect the child grew strong in my heart.
But there was something else, something cold.
I turned and noticed the blue eyes on me again, staring at me from the face of the blond girl I had talked to last week. They smoldered with passion yet felt icy.
Milly backed out of her hug but took a hand. She then turned to the blond girl that owned the blue eyes.
“You know my cousin, Sarah, don’t you?” Milly asked.
“I’ve seen her of course,” I said.
The coldness in Sarah’s eyes went away, replaced with a hunger. “Yes, I know Cousin Trevor,” she said. “I’m glad he didn’t bring that bitch with him today.”
“Sarah, that’s not polite,” Lisa said to her daughter.
“No, Bethy did a few things this week that..” I said.
“Don’t you think I don’t know what she did and tried?” Sarah asked. “I tried to warn you before. About six years ago I even said it straight out.”
“What?” I asked.
But I remembered. It was the September equinox, the first time I had brought Bethy to a family event. The nine year old Sarah came up, eyes on fire. She gave Bethy a look that would kill and told her she didn’t belong. She turned to me, a look that was half anger and half love, and told me that I brought Bethy at my own peril. I thought it was cute at the time.
“But you didn’t listen and now look what happened,” she said, pulling me back to the present.
Milly smiled at me and said, “Ever since great-grandma Rosaline passed away Sarah has taken it on herself to be the family witch. Anyway, I want to show you something.”
Milly pulled me across the walkway to a store window and started talking. She acted as if she had known me her whole life, and it seemed as if she did. It continued through the morning. Sometimes the way she held my hand felt more like seven than 17, yet she was a typical teen in most ways.
Sarah, on the other hand, was very different. She seemed to constantly watch me with a knowing smile. At times I felt I felt like a mice having a cat stare at me before the final pounce. Yet I felt no harm or malice. I began to understand it more and grew embarrassed.
Just after I lunch I found myself alone with Amelie for the first time.
“How old is Sarah?” I asked.
Amelie laughed. She knew my real question. “She’s fifteen, almost sixteen,” she said. “Yeah, she’s hitting pretty strong and obvious, isn’t she? I think back when I was that age and am embarrassed by how little skill I showed in flirting. A think a baseball bat would have been more subtle.”
I chuckled. “And I remember being sixteen myself,” I said. “I so much wished I could know if some girl or other liked me and didn’t realize until years later that she was all but hitting me over the head with a two by four to get my attention. I guess the nuclear flirting is needed to get through the thick skulls of teenaged boys. Which is so funny since my sex drive was in overdrive at the time. Maybe nature works that way so guys don’t produce fifty babies by the time they’re twenty.”
“Yeah, I know,” Amelie said. “Still I don’t get why she is hitting on you so hard.”
She turned and looked at me. My eyes melted into hers and I felt lost in their warmth. “Well, actually I do,” she said. I moved a little closer and put one hand on her shoulder, another on her waist. She put one hand around me and lightly caressed my cheek with the other. I could feel my blood rise, and other things as well. She continued to look into my eyes.
“Life can be so unfair can’t it?” she asked. “There are so many reasons I can’t act on my deepest needs and desires. I can’t tell you half of them. And then there are those I can. Sometimes I wish Curtiss would steal from me or try to poison me.” She laughed.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said. “There’s little that feels so awful.”
“But if it would lead to me feeling as good as I do now, feeling as right as this,” she said. “We’ve grown apart, but I can’t leave, not now. And there is so much more. So, so much I can’t tell you.”
I took my hand off of her shoulder and touched her cheek. With my hand that was on her waist I was unconsciously pulling her towards a kiss, when I heard a familiar voice.
“Hey Uncle Trevor, look what I got,” Milly said as she ran up. I dropped Amelie and turned to the teen.
I took the steampunk bracelet from her and oo-ed and ah-ed over it. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Winnie giving Amelie a questioning look.
“I got something too, Cousin Trevor,” Sarah said. “Do you want to see it?”
“Sure,” I said.
I took the trinket from her and accidentally brushed her hand. She was trembling. I talked about it, asking about the old cameo the jeweler had used, then handed it back. This was the closest I had been to the girl and picked up a very different vibe. Somehow she had grown in my mind, but I could see the young child in her. I could see the looks coming more from an innocent place than it seemed from a distance. She did have a crush, but it was a schoolgirl crush, nothing more. I could feel it and was relieved.
The rest of the afternoon went smoothly. Milly took my hand and led me around on occasion, talking to me like an old friend, and it felt right. Sarah still gave Milly jealous glances and me looks full of desire, but it was a child doing these things, not a thousand year old demon as it felt at first.
I could also see the deep relationship between the two girls. They were much more than cousins, they were best friends and rivals. Sarah’s jealousy of Milly had much more to do with my special bond with her than any romantic love. There was a true love and bond between the girls and Sarah didn’t like sharing her second cousin with me.
For the rest of the afternoon Amelie was a little more distant, but Lisa made up for it by being chattier.
We were walking to a restaurant for dinner and I was a little behind the others talking to Lisa.
“Have you talked to my mother yet?’ she asked as the others stopped outside of the restaurant to wait for us.
“Who?” I asked.
“You know, Betty Halley.” She said. “Oh, don’t worry, there is nothing in my mother, or father for that matter, that has anything to do with the Halley who attacked you and Milly.”
I nodded. Deep down I knew she was wrong. Lisa had a lot of Halley blood. I could feel it, taste it.
Lisa pulled a card out of her purse. “You should call her,” she said. “She has so much more of Rosaline’s knowledge than anyone else. More than that, she was locked in the room with great-grandfather Abraham the last week of his life. She told me he had needed someone to pass his family knowledge and she was the only one who would understand. She had been very close to him since she was a little girl.”
I looked at the card. Forest Meadows Assisted Living in Newton, Massachusetts.
“You need to see her,” she said as we rejoined the others.
After dinner I knew it was time for us to part company. Amelie and I walked a little away from the others.
“Thank you so much for inviting me,” I said. “I feel much more part of your family than my own.”
“We are your family,” she said.
I could feel the warmth of her being pull me in. I kissed her lightly on her on her lips. She pulled me in tighter and deepened the kiss.
As soon as our kiss deepened her phone rang. For a moment she tried to ignore it.
“Shit,” she said, loosening her grip. “I have to get this.” She pulled away and answered her phone. “Yes Curtis, how are you tonight? Yeah, I’m in Boston with the girls. I told you we were going.”
She walked away and her voice grew quieter.
A hand took mine. I turned, expecting Milly, but it was Sarah.
“Hey Cousin,” she said. “I’m glad you could make it in and join us. It’s been great.”
“Thanks Sarah, it has,” I said. “It is so good to get to know all of you a bit better.”
I looked into her eyes. I could see and feel the Halley ice underneath, but she wasn’t owned by it. More I could see an innocent young girl who was a little confused with puppy love for a much older man. But even more than that I could see the good in her, the love for her cousin.
She hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, one that was appropriate for a girl to give her uncle. It heartened me that I had found how much I had misread her earlier, how much of a normal young lady she really was.
But then, as she was pulling away she said, “With her it’s not Curtis you should worry about, it’s Thomas.”
“Thomas?” I asked.
“Yes, Thomas Halley.” She winked and walked away.
I gave my hugs and said my goodbyes to the rest of the family. Amelie, still on the phone, walked over, gave me a slight one handed hug and whispered goodbye in my ear.
As I was walking back to the T station I reflected on the day. I had never felt so comfortable with a group of people in my life. All of them. But there was something about Milly that was even more special. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew it was an unbreakable bond.
When I was a few blocks away I turned back. I could feel in my heart where each individual was. Amelie felt me and heated up for a second before brushing me away and closing herself off to me. It was if the brightest star in the sky had just winked out. I turned back and went down into the subway station.
As I reached the bottom of the steps at the train platform my heart just continued to climb lower and lower.
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